Author Archives: Darrell Goodliffe

Opinion: Time for a U-turn on Lisbon Treaty

Let’s call a spade a spade: given the BNP electoral successes I think this is probably one of the most important things we can do in politics right now. Last night was not a good set of results for the Lib Dems; anything that places our national vote share behind Labour’s simply is not good enough.

Rather than do an exhaustive analysis I intend to do something novel, something that has not been done much during this electoral cycle, and focus on a European issue.

I remember one of the first blog posts that I wrote critical of a position …

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged , , and | 31 Comments

Opinion: Israel – time for action carries a couple of articles on the recent excesses of the Israeli military. Alex Deane loses himself in his eulogy to the State of Israel: surrounded by “enemies who wish her ill”, this “sliver of democracy and decency has always held my sympathy,” he informs the reader.

However, pick up a Sunday newspaper, and you can see that Israeli policy is pretty far from decency. If even the likes of Deane are feeling that supporting Israel is now “less straightforward”, then serious questions have to be asked about how long the guilt-induced whitewashing of Israel’s actions can last.

Signs were emerging yesterday of a new consensus, with all three parties criticising Israel’s recent air raids on the Gaza Strip. However, the crux of the question is what will emerge out of this new climate of criticism. Will we see concrete calls for increasing stringent sanction to be applied to Israel while it continues to violate international law with impunity?

Much will depend on the attitude of the incoming US President, Barack Obama. Sadly, there is little hope of a more stringent line emerging from an Obama administration. Visiting Israel last summer he said:

If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that.”

All of which sounds very reasonable but does little to address the complexities of the vast power disparities in the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the cause-effect relationship between the actions Israel takes and why Hamas enjoys the support it does amoung the Palestinian population. Put simply, Israel’s problem is that it has been allowed carte blanche for far too long, and that is as damaging to it as it is to the innocents that it rolls over.

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged , , , and | 38 Comments

Opinion: Secularise education

At our Spring conference we are going to be debating two highly contentious issues around education policy: tuition fees and how we should approach the question of faith schools.

With the latter in mind it is interesting to look at the recent report published by The Runnymede Trust. Entitled ‘Right to Divide?’. It is a comprehensive report which consulted parents, teachers,education experts, religious leaders, local authority officials and pupils. So, it cannot be easily dismissed as reflecting the experiences or biases of one particular grouping.

Rather than try and cover all 76 pages of the report in this piece I intend to focus on the 6 key recommendations. Let’s start at the top with the headline grabber:

(1) End selection based on faith.

The report rightly justifies this thus:

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 69 Comments

Opinion: Restating the case against capital punishment

Whenever a particularly horrific criminal case is in the media spotlight there are inevitably calls for the reintroduction of capital punishment. Either for the ‘specific case in question’ or, more generally, for the specific type of crime committed. It’s to be expected from ‘foaming at the mouth’ right-wingers, but such views are also shared by many members of the general public.

We have seen that this week on Lib Dem Voice and the comments on Baby P. Nobody is under any illusions about the horrific nature of this case and the deplorable nature of the crimes committed. I think …

Posted in Op-eds | 22 Comments

Opinion: Time to end the ‘war on terror’ and bring all our troops home

Nick Clegg, writing in The Independent on Sunday, made many worthy suggestions as to how British foreign policy may now proceed, especially in light of the election of Barack Obama as US President.

He is right to argue that now is the time for a “regional agreement, similar to the Dayton Peace Agreement, involving all countries in the region, especially Iran.” He is right about the centrality of involving both Iran and Pakistan in negotiations and also splitting the Taliban.

However, all the things that make him right about these issues make his call for Britain to support “a …

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged | 9 Comments

Opinion: Forging ahead

Something of a debate has been captivating the Liberal Democrat blogosphere recently. I don’t think this is something unique to the Liberal Democrats as a party; each party and movement is going through something of a process of struggle and redefinition due to the new financial climate in which we find ourselves.

Whatever your general view of capitalism as a social system, it is absolutely true in my eyes that the limitations of the markets have been cruelly exposed in the past weeks. Of course, this is not true if you are a die-hard libertarian; what has been exposed for them is the problems with fettering their beloved market. However, the consensus of opinion, even in such ‘loyalist’ tomes like The Economist and Financial Times, weighs heavily against the libertarian view of the correct lessons that should be drawn from the current crisis.

What has been teased out is that there is a need for a new consensus; maybe even A New Start, as posited by David Allen on these very pages. Of course, your view of how we got here will necessarily determine your view of which way forward is right.

However, what is abundantly clear is that the nature of the Liberal Democrats as a political party mitigates against the adoption of anybody’s ‘maximum program’. I would no more want to be a member of a party that abandons concepts such as social justice and the welfare of the people that the state is supposed to serve, as any libertarian would want to be of a party committed to the nationalisation of the ‘commanding heights’, or even more extreme democratisation of capital.

So, middle ground has to be found. How can we go about this?

Posted in Op-eds | Tagged | 15 Comments

Opinion: Smoking and Liberty

Stephen Tall, starting a debate last week on the Lib Dems’ position in the polls, unintentionally started a quite different debate regarding the specific issue of smoking and liberty.

Laying my cards on the table from the start; I am a smoker and have been for over a year although I am in the throes of trying to cut back. Despite this, when it was introduced I just about came out in favour of the ban because I think there was enough evidence that the public health concerns are genuine, and, ultimately, I was prepared to trade a little of my individual liberty in this instance. You can debate the scientific evidence for and against this point ad infinitum, but there is also the issue that smoking smells pretty terrible etc, etc.

In these circumstances I found it possible to support the restriction on my liberty because I was imposing on others. Could you possibly extend that logic to support a ban in all public places? Yes, I guess you possibly could, but this would be a point where a line is crossed because the effects of second-hand smoking were exacerbated by being in a confined space. Ultimately smokers are usually aware of the risks and it is their decision whether to take that risk or not. It is a question of whether people have the right to control and govern what they do with their own bodies. Smoking in a confined space took that right away from other people, but smoking in an open space where air can circulate does not.

The Guardian reported recently that the latest smoking figures show nine million people still smoke – which is a minority but nonetheless a sizeable one. Disproportionately it is people on lower incomes who smoke the most (although income is not a sole determinant):

According to Professor Martin Jarvis, a psychologist at University College London and a leading specialist in the field of smoking and health inequality, this is not a question solely of income: every main indicator of a lower socio-economic status is likely, independent of each of the others, to predict a higher rate of smoking. If your educational level is below the average, you are more likely to smoke. If you live in rented or overcrowded accommodation, you are more likely to smoke. Ditto if you do not have access to a car, are unemployed, or on state income benefit.”

So, people who think higher taxation is the answer should consider this; that you are already hitting people hard who are at the bottom of the pile.

Posted in Op-eds | 95 Comments

Opinion: Royal Prerogative must go

Well, Norman Baker’s proposals to scrap the Oath of Allegiance certainly caused a stir on Liberal Democrat Voice, didn’t they? Jennie Rigg and others were certainly most riled by the ‘crawling out of the woodwork’ of ‘little republicans’.  She feels that the role of the monarchy in a constitutional monarchy state is ‘largely symbolic’. It is thus perhaps not surprising that she is vexed by the importance attached to the issue of a head of state she sees as largely symbolic. However, thankfully others do not share her view and as the Daily Mail has recently reported, …

Posted in Op-eds | 25 Comments

Opinion: Why we should stand against David Davis

It is no secret to any regular reader of the comments on these pages that I am bitterly disappointed by the decision that the Liberal Democrats will not be standing against David Davis in the upcoming by-election in Haltemprice & Howden. Often in the heat of debate points get lost and come out half-formed and therefore I think it is worth taking the time to step-back a little.

Whatever we may think of the decision Davis took and its motivations some fundamental points need to be made against the position put forward by the leadership. Simon Hughes says in his …

Posted in Op-eds and Parliamentary by-elections | Tagged | 58 Comments

Opinion: Breaking the cycle

Figures carried on the Liberal Democrat’s national website reveal some quite shocking statistics. Over 70,000 young people have been admitted to hospital for self-harm related injuries in the last four years, an increase of 35%; 4,000 have been admitted for eating disorders, which represents an increase of 10%.

Defining self-harm can be problematic. I have seen websites which define it broadly enough to include smoking and the use of narcotics. A broad definition is not helpful because there are clear differences.

For example, a smoker or a drug addict will become chemically addicted to their particular vice (although they …

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Opinion: It is not enough to survive, you have to be worthy of survival

Battlestar Gallactica, the cult science-fiction television show, starts its fourth and final season this week. Since 2004 it has won some critical acclaim and a cult following despite being confined to satellite TV.

Although reading too much into what remains a fictional show produced for entertainment is tricky, it’s hard to avoid the imprint made on the show by the ‘war on terror’. Other big issues are tackled but the underlying premise of the show is undoubtedly dealing with a post 9/11 world. The premise, of a civilisation on the brink and on the run is unquestionably one that dominates political dialogue day in and day out. Impending economic upheavals are only likely to deepen this feeling of drift and in some quarters of outright despair with the ‘state we are in’.

BSG ‘ReImagined’ began back in 2004 with ‘humanities’ children’, the robotic Cylons, who can now take on human appearance launching a massive strike against the Twelve Colonies of Kobol. William Adama’s Battlestar Gallactica, a relic from the first Cylon war due to be pensioned off as a museum, is the only Battlestar left standing after the Colonies’ defence system is crippled. Nuclear holocaust ensues and the Colonies are set aflame. This is definitely how 9/11 felt to a lot of people – like it was the end of the world, the ‘end of everything’. Terrorism’s great power has always lain in it’s ability to inflict damage, but, more potently, also in the shadows it creates in people’s minds.

In reality, it was not the end of the world or anything even remotely like it but it was the end of a sense of security that ‘our’ way of doing things would be left permanently unchallenged having survived the Cold War.

50,000 survive, and the subsequent episodes follow those 50,000 in their quest to find a mythical 13th colony, Earth. Of course, with the Cylons being able to assume human form this causes a mass questioning of identity Here we have a discourse on the ‘war on terrors’ recruitment to the side of the terrorists of many people who ‘look like us’, or else share our nationality. The ‘enemy’ is not a foreign state – it is stateless – and this in and of itself is challenging us to think outside of the box.

The question of legitimate grievance is also raised. Some of the Cylons are religious zealots, hell-bent on imposing their ‘god’ on humanity (something that is emphasised in series 3 as the Cylons occupy New Caprica) while others harbor serious anger towards humanity for the enslavement and abasement of their race.

Values and established ways of doing things are constantly questioned as the fleet finds itself fighting not just the Cylon’s but it’s own demons; the savagery and baseness of the struggle to survive, the difficult choices that are faced it in that struggle.

We need to be asking ourselves those same questions.

Is it good enough for us to present an image of ourselves as a faultless enduring force for good? Or should we be honest about the times when our foreign policy has shown a callous disregard for the human consequences of our actions?

Posted in Op-eds | 21 Comments

Opinion: The real saboteurs

The Olympic torch has been dogged by protests this weekend as it has made its way through London and Paris. China’s government has responded predictably, saying that the protests were the work of a ‘few Tibetan separatists’ attempting to ‘sabotage’ the event. Spokespeople for the International Olympic Committee have lined-up with the Chinese government and decried the ‘politicisation’ of sport.

Alex Gilady, a IOC coordination commission member, said:

The important message is to tell our athletes that some people are trying to use them and to ride on their backs for solutions that the world has to find in other places like the United Nations.”

However, a recently produced report by Amnesty International shows that the ones using the Games as a political weapon are the Chinese government. It claims that the Chinese government is launching a systematic campaign to imprison activists ahead of the Games. It cites in particular the cases of Hu Jia and Yang Chunlin. Hu Jia has just recently been jailed for three and a half years for spreading

malicious rumors, libel and instigation in an attempt to subvert the state’s political and socialist systems.”

Jia, co-founder of the the Beijing Aizhixing Institute of Health Education, has been a repeated critic of the Chinese government. In November 2007, he participated via web-cam in a European Union parliamentary hearing in Brussels in which he stated that China had failed to fulfill its promises to improve human rights in the run-up to the Olympics. His trial lasted four hours and his lawyers were given one week to prepare his case. Representatives of foreign governments wishing to attend the trial were, according to diplomatic sources:

told that all seats had been ‘allocated’ and there was no space. On 18 March 2008, the same morning of the trial, they were given the contradictory information that seats had been ‘allocated’ to those that had arrived earlier the same day.”

Yang Chunlin who was detained by police on 6 July 2007 launched a petition under the slogan ‘We want human rights, not the Olympics’. Reports have claimed that he was tortured:

For six days in early August and one day in September 2007, his arms and legs were reportedly stretched and chained to the four corners of an iron bed so that he could not move. He was forced to eat, drink and defecate in that position. He was also reportedly forced to watch other detainees being subjected to similar treatment and to clean up their defecation.”

Claims of torture and abuse of activists riddle the report. Some are arrested tried and convicted of subversion like Jia and others are arrested and charged on spurious grounds. This is true in the case of Chen Guangcheng who is currently serving a four-year-and-three month sentence for ‘damaging property and blocking the traffic’ in Linyi city. No penalty points or license shredding, over four years in jail and do not pass go. Guangcheng campaigned against the authorities in Linyi “forced abortions and sterilizations which affected thousands of local women.”

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | 1 Comment

How to survive uninterested times

The Chinese say it is a curse to live interesting times but for the politically minded it is a curse to live in uninterested times. Apathy towards politics and political parties is widespread and we all know it; the question of how we deal with it recently prompted a debate on the Liberal Democrats Facebook group.

First, we have to start by absolutely asserting that we live in times of unprecedented apathy. It is easy sometimes for those caught-up in politics and the world around them to lose sight of that but …

Posted in News | 8 Comments

Opinion: To boycott or not to boycott…

I am sure I speak for everybody reading this when I express disgust at the recent actions of the Chinese government in Tibet; however what to do in response is far from a given. Calls for an outright boycott of the 2008 games, hosted by Beijing, remain relatively few and far between at the present time with more serious consideration being given to a call for a boycott of opening ceremony are more wide-spread and have been given an airing by prominent politicians like Nancy Pelosi, speaker for the US House of Representatives.

Meanwhile European politicians are making noises in favour of boycotting the opening ceremony. The President of the European Parliament, Hans-Gert Pöttering, told Germany’s Bild am Sonntag that ‘boycott measures’ could be justified. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has hinted he may not attend the opening ceremony and it is a French organisation, Reporters Without Borders, that is at the forefront of the campaign for a ‘political boycott’ of the opening ceremony. It conducted a poll which found a clear majority (53%-42%) in favour of Sarkozy boycotting the opening and a large minority (41%) in favour of a total boycott by French athletes.

Olympic committees have however opposed the boycott; complaining variously that the athletes and Chinese people will be the ones to suffer or that such issues simply should not be allowed to interfere with sport. Russian and Australian ministers have joined the opposition camp; the Russian government said that it would like to;

underscore that efforts to politicize the holding of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in China are unacceptable,”

and Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith added:

I very strongly believe that we should not in any way bring the Olympics or call the Olympics into question.”

Politics spilling over into sport is not, of course, without precedent – there are numerous instances of the Olympics themselves being involved in political brinkmanship. China itself put pressure on Canada to not allow the Taiwanese team to compete as the ‘Republic of China’ at the Montreal games in 1976. It is hard to avoid the impression that politicians opposed to the boycott are taking as much a political position as it’s proponents. Russian memories no doubt reach back to the 1980 Moscow games and Australia no doubt seeks to cause the minimum offence to a near-neighbour and trading partner; Beijing itself will no doubt use the games to promote not just China but also bolster the credibility of it’s regime. Therefore we can dismiss out of hand the facile arguments of the Olympic committees whose own athletes are uncomfortable and want the International Olympic Committee to make a stand.

If the IOC wished for a non-political games then it is hard to see why it chose China in the first place with its government that is rightly bitterly disliked by people who hold democratic ideals close to their heart.

Posted in Op-eds | 10 Comments

Opinion: Pulpit politics

Several issues have placed religion and it’s role in politics in the spotlight this week.

Labour has found itself in hot water over allowing a free vote on the bill that will allow the creation hybrid human-animal embryos. Meanwhile, across the pond, Barack Obama is assessing the damage done to his campaign by the comments of his pastor, Jeremiah Wright. The Pope’s baptised an Italian born Muslim convert as part of his Easter message in what was a somewhat ill-advised piece of showmanship. Here on Liberal Democrat Voice we have had quite a lively debate around faith schools.

First, let’s set some parameters for the debate.

Religious faith, or lack of it, is a matter of personal conviction – but the business of government is to govern an entire society comprised of different levels and types of individual belief. Modern, democratic states must be secular (not atheist) in nature. This is especially true in the age of the ‘war on terror’, when fundamentalist ideologues try and portray secularism as merely a covert tool of Christian domination.

Secularism is a cornerstone of moder democracy, it is a founding principle of democratic nations and direct and principled break from a past in which rulers claimed legitimacy from divine inheritance. It is more than just a fancy word, it must be at the heart of democracy because it is the principle of the predominance of the people’s will over patronage allegedly handed on down from the heavens.

It is not essential to have religious faith to share a set of moral values or indeed to ‘belong’; it is easier and far more healthy to unite around human centered values in beliefs, such as belief in the innate capacity of humanity to better itself. More often than not, religion does more to divide than unite, as we are seeing day-after-day in the world at large.

It coheres a specific ‘group identity’ but part of that process is unity against the other groups. Saying religion is a unifying force is a bit like saying a love of football unites a nation – try telling that to a room full of Tottenham and Arsenal or Manchester United and Manchester City fans.

Posted in Op-eds | 104 Comments

Opinion: Not so happy birthday

Tomorrow mark’s the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq war; the invasion began on 20th March, 2003, and President George W Bush declared ‘victory’ on the 1st of May that year. Five long years later and British and American troops remain in Iraq and the war we were told was over is still being fought.

If you judge the war by the fate of it’s proponents then consider this… Tony Blair has left the leadership of his party, his legacy tainted; George Bush enjoys approval ratings somewhere in the region of 19%; and Hillary Clinton, who sided with the Bush administration in it’s decision to invade, is struggling to win the Democratic nomination for the Presidency.

However, there is little room for the anti-war movement to brag. Demonstrations held to mark the anniversary drew crowds of ‘thousands’ compared to the hundreds of thousands (even the police, whose estimates are usually on the conservative side, said 750,000) in the month before the invasion.

One of the bitterest legacies of the Iraq conflict is that it is not just Muslims who have been alienated from the political process, but also the majority of people who opposed the war and now feel totally unrepresented and disenfranchised. Simply, they were told their opinions were irrelevant and they have reacted as such; dropped out of politics and lost interest in the process. So nobody will be particularly relishing the ‘celebration’ of this anniversary – it will be one of those ‘parties’ where everybody is nervously examining their feet or fidgeting with their mobile phones, hoping to be saved by ANY text message.

Whether we like the fact that the invasion happened or not – and I most defiantly do not – the issue now is how, having made the mistake, we rectify it. Of course, troops need to be withdrawn, but how, and in what manner?

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | 4 Comments

Opinion: Why I would swear no oath

Lord Goldsmith would like schoolchildren to swear an oath of allegiance to better define our sense of Britishness. Poor unfortunate children are to be made to swear the oath to Queen and country (presumably); one wonders if the new ‘citizens’ will get a certificate or baseball cap to celebrate their inclusion. This is the worse example that could be possibly imagined of a bungled attempt to impose values of tolerance on people from above; the very result of which is the fostering of the intolerance and bigotry which the measures are supposed to stymie.

Firstly, many will object to swearing an oath of allegiance to the Queen or the institution of the monarchy. In a democratic society it is increasingly an anachronism and I think it should be noted that nations which have formed their identity in the process of democratic rebellions against monarchical rule (like the United States and France) already have days to celebrate citizenship such as the ones now being proposed. However, those days are a celebration of the achievements of the people. It is a worthwhile point that it seems a little unfair to ask a Catholic to swear allegiance to a throne that anybody sharing their religion would be prohibited from sitting on; the notion that the monarchy embodies ‘Britishness’ is to view it from the perspective of a visiting tourist.

Posted in Op-eds | 10 Comments

Opinion: A movement for peace

Once again in the past week the headlines have been dominated by the cycle of violence in the Middle East. The same day as a gunman attacked the Merkaz Harav seminary a coalition of international groups released a report into the worsening conditions for ordinary Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. If nothing else this report should provide the clues necessary as to why some Palestinians were prepared to celebrate the brutal attack on the seminary.

“Man-made and completely avoidable”

The report opens with frank language saying that the situation in Gaza is “man-made, completely avoidable and with the necessary political will can be reversed”. Naturally, it stops short of directly attributing blame (although in response to the report, Israel was not so candid). However, it does say that the situation has worsened “exponentially” since Israel’s blockade against Gaza began.
Critics of the report will focus on the reports condemnation of the actions of the Israeli state but, in the interests of balance, it is only fair to note that the report acknowledges the blockade began in response to “indiscriminate” rocket attacks on Israel. It should go without saying that Israel’s current strategy has not stopped these attacks nor has it significantly improved it’s security status; one need only switch on any newscast on any given day to see that much.

However, it’s main focus is the desperate plight of Gazans. Among it’s main findings are;

* Economic collapse; 95% of Gaza’s industrial operations are suspended due to the blockade. Private enterprise has pretty much ceased to exist or function; “entire sectors including construction and agriculture have ground to a halt”. Starkly, the report says that it is no longer a question of Gaza’s economy “collapsing” but having already “collapsed”.
* Crippling poverty; the report cites rising prices of essential goods like wheat and flour coupled with an unemployment rate of 40% which is expected to rise to 50%. Household incomes are projected to fall by 22% so, even if a Gazan is employed, they are squeezed in a vice of rising prices and a rising inability to pay those prices.
* Collapse of basic service infrastructure; not only does the Israeli blockade restrict the flow and fuel and electricity into Gaza but it also prevents the “repair and maintenance of the electricity and water service infrastructure by prohibiting the import of spare parts”. The net result is hospitals which can’t function and “40-50 million tonnes of sewage” which “continues to pour into the sea daily”.
* Dependency; “In 2008, there are over 1.1 million people – some three-quarters of the population of Gaza – who are dependent on food aid”. This statistic speaks for itself, and coupled with the data above it is one that is unlikely to change in the near future.

New Strategy

It should be blindingly obvious that a population so ground under the heel is embittered as well as impoverished. Life would be hard enough without Israel’s regular military incursions into the Strip which add on top of the daily hardships the bitterness of seeing friends and loved ones caught in the crossfire as Hamas and Israel slug it out. Gazans have been deprived of that most crucial element of living, hope, and in that atmosphere it is unsurprising that Hamas’s bile-drenched message finds willing listeners.

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Tagged and | 12 Comments

Opinion: Right to rebel

Often in politics, as in life, we are faced with choices we simply don’t want to make; for whatever reason none of the options on offer seem to offer what we really want. Such a choice faced both the Liberal Democrat leaders and the eventual rebels in the recent vote on the question of whether there would be a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. As we know, the vote resulted in the biggest Liberal Democrat rebellion in history and resignation of three front bench spokesmen.

Were the rebels right to defy the three-line whip and vote with the Conservatives? The answer …

Posted in Op-eds | 14 Comments

A new member looks forward to shaping a new agenda

I recently applied to join the Liberal Democrats; something that represents something of a political full-circle for me. During the 1992 General Election my Primary School held a mock election and I was part of the team that led the Lib Dems to a resounding victory. After that my political activism drew me into the Labour Party (I was there on that night in ’97) and then leftwards and, finally, after resigning from the Labour Party for a second time over the invasion of Iraq, out of active politics altogether.

Nick Clegg’s recent statement on Britain becoming a ‘Prozac nation’ is what drew me back to the Lib Dems; to me it showed willingness to tackle an issue that politicians rarely tackle, and, if they do, rarely with bold and innovative insight. Also, Barack Obama’s campaign for the Presidential nomination has revitalised my belief in progressive politics. His attempt to build a true progressive coalition between traditional core progressives and disaffected, ‘small-c’ conservatives is something that I believe can be emulated in the United Kingdom, and it is something that I believe the Liberal Democrats are best placed to do.

Posted in Op-eds | 5 Comments

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